speaking in pictures

This boy loves the water.

On a recent trip, we asked him every day, several times, if he wanted to go swimming. He firmly, directly, and absolutely said, “No.”

So, someone would stay home with him while the others headed for the pool. I chalked it up to mood, sometimes you just don’t know with him. He can be over a favorite toy or hobby in the blink of an eye. I do not get nor expect an explanation.

After three days of this, we decided to take a picture of the pool. This was the same pool he had been to so many times before, so we figured this was worth a try. I had a feeling something was lost in our communication.

The next day, we showed him the photo and asked if he wanted to go swimming. He excitedly responded with “Yes!”

Back to the beginning, the first specialists we saw when Wilson’s speech development was delayed continually insisted that he needed more visuals in his life. All day long, he should have images to remind him things like how to wash his hands or use the bathroom, visual schedules to transition from one activity to another, food visuals, stop/go images for safety, etc.

This was hard to wrap my head around. He knew how to do all these things, and I knew he understood so many words even though he couldn’t say many. I thought they were just trying to put him in the “autism box” – assuming he needed these seemingly excessive visuals like many other children with autism.  I stubbornly wanted him to understand me, my way. I so badly wanted the words coaxed out of him.

But they were right. Eventually our walls were covered with these images he quite simply needed for regulation. Stories on self-care, self-calming techniques, stop signs, daily routines, and schedules. We kept images in the diaper bag, on our keychains and cell phones.  We’d scribble plans out on whiteboards and leave instructions with caregivers to do the same.

It didn’t matter if you were the World’s Most Terrible Artist, he listened to these images. He understood them. Especially when his anxiety was heightened and regulation down, this was the way we could earn his attention.

Fast forward, and today this sweet boy knows hundreds of new words and concepts. He continues to understand so much more than he can say. Words have a way of escaping him. He learns them, he knows them, and then he often cannot access them. This frustrates the hell right out of him. This is the downright unfair, heartbreaking part of his brain working in this way it has been designed.

We can tell him the plan 1,000 times. He’ll anxiously repeat it back to us, over an over, waiting for confirmation that he has it down correctly. If we SHOW him, he calms, accepts, and moves on. He might come back and quietly check the image or schedule again and then continues with what he was doing.

Now he is the one adorning our walls with visuals. He draws, cuts and glues paper, and carefully hangs his creations with blue tape. I think he knows he can say so much more this way, and we are listening.

Communication looks different for everyone, and it’s constantly evolving. Keep trying new approaches and circling back to old tactics, even the ones that didn’t work the first go-around. It is always worth a try.

Slow and Steady Progress


There was a time when I thought this kid would NEVER, EVER, get a haircut.

Today, we busted this one out in 5-10 minutes with NO SCREAMING! 😱


I’ve already posted about haircut progress in the past, so I’ll spare you all the desensitization details.

Moms and Dads: hang in there if you are dealing with this or other sensory sensitivities, potty training, etc. It will get better.

If you think you are moving slow and taking baby steps, move even SLOWER and take smaller steps. It will be worth the time spent.

Side note: his incentive today was canned green beans 🤷🏼‍♀️ he wants what he wants! And when I tried to give him a new brand with no salt added, he smelled them and requested “different green beans”. Can’t sneak anything past this stud! 🤣

Also pictured below- our white board where we keep track of stars earned during the haircut and my version of a cup of green beans. 🙌🏻


Also side note: he does NOT stop moving 🌪 but was so happy, I needed to capture it 📸 .


As goes with autism, attempting this cut the night before school pictures could have gone VERY differently!! .

Today was a good day 💙 


Visual Schedules are a GAME CHANGER!


Adding more visual supports has been SO helpful for Wilson. This was something that took me awhile to come around to understanding that he needed because I thought he KNEW most all of these words.

It was incredible to see how much of a difference it made for him to SEE them, especially when it comes to scheduling and first/then scenarios.

I can say “put your shoes on” 50x but if he sees an image of shoes, car, then school- he is more likely to complete all those steps without a million prompts.

Now he puts his own magnets up when he wants something and can’t exactly get those needs across verbally. He’s even started drawing items he wants! (His sandwich 🤣- see video below!)

Checking events off as they are completed has been really helpful as well.

The magnets we’re using here are schKIDules ordered from Amazon, and some wallet sized photo prints we made of items more specific to Wilson, like preferred foods/activities, his school, therapists, our house etc.

I also included a screenshot of the Choiceworks app we use for schedules on the go. It’s great- you can use stock photos or photos from your camera roll.


For special events, park visits, doc appointments and other outings we bring a small whiteboard so we can draw or create checklists on the fly!


Give some of these a try and if you have questions don’t hesitate to ask- I wish I hadn’t waited so long to make some of these simple things more available for the whole family!

Click the images below to see Wilson using his visual supports!